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Pedestrian countdown signals cause more car crashes: study

A study has found pedestrian countdown signals have caused an increase in car crashes in Toronto. CITYNEWS

Pedestrian countdown signals have made Toronto streets safer for walkers, but less so for drivers, a study has found.

Back in 2010, University of Toronto PhD students Arvind Magesan and Sacha Kapoor decided to find out how the signs were working and if they were encouraging risky driving behaviour.

The pair looked at police data from all 1,794 intersections in Toronto from 2004-2008 — a five-year period which spans the time before and after the city started installing the signals in 2006.

They found the countdowns caused about 22 more car crashes per month on average or an increase of more than five per cent.

“In the past you had no idea really … You could see a hand flashing saying that at some point in the near future there would be a light change,” Magesan told CityNews.

“But now you see that there’s four or five seconds left, and you think to yourself, ‘If I put my foot on the gas a little bit harder, I’ll get through.’”

On the other hand, he and Kapoor found on average five fewer pedestrians were hit by cars after the signals were installed.

“If it reduces the collisions between cars and pedestrians, that’s a great thing. We don’t want to lose that,” Magesan said.

“I’m not saying, ‘Take these countdowns off. It’s a bad idea.’”

Magesan and Kapoor — now assistant professors at the University of Calgary and Erasmus University Rotterdam, respectively — say they understand it would be expensive to change the signals now, but want to improve policy.

One alternative Magesan proposed is to change the countdown signals so only pedestrians can see or hear them.

Read the full study here.